US report must be read with a rider

It is, indeed, a shame that Madhya Pradesh figures in the US State Department’s 2017 Human Rights report, although the report cites abuses from all states in the form of extra-judicial killings, disappearances, tortures, arbitrary arrests and detention, rapes and so forth. The report refers to the death of six farmers in the Mandsaur agitation and laments that the investigation is still lingering on.

The deaths, by themselves, are a scar on the state’s record, but the undue delay in concluding the inquiry is bringing it more discredit. Set up in June last year with a mandate to submit its report within three months, the inquiry commission has already been given four extensions. Two CRPF jawans have testified that the firing was caused by an accident in a melee with the crowd. But, until the final report comes out with its conclusions, the deaths have been attributed to police firing. And so does the US report.

In another damning reference, the report mentions the complaint issued by India’s National Human Rights Commission against the MP government, police and prison authorities, expressing doubts about the October 2016 killings of eight members of the outlawed Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) after they allegedly killed a guard and escaped from a high-security prison. These have been included in the 92 cases of custodial deaths nationwide in 2016 as reported by the National Crime Records Bureau. Maharashtra reported the highest number of cases at 16.

The US report highlights widespread corruption, instances of censorship and harassment of media outlets, restrictions on foreign funding of some NGOs, lack of criminal investigations, or accountability for cases related to rape, domestic violence, dowry-related deaths, honour killings, sexual harassment and discrimination against women and girls as serious problems in India. The report is compiled with inputs from NGOs, media reports, and official records.

The 2017 report covers nearly 200 countries and is used by US Congress and the administration as a resource for decision-making. Although it seeks to place the US as leading by example in promoting effective governance based on the rule of law and respect for human rights, the publication strikes a jarring note with the actions of President Trump and his administration, which have been accused of attempts to roll back civil rights and of attacking the media. In fact, the report’s launch was marred by acrimony, with reporters challenging the criticism of other countries when Trump, himself, was describing the media as ‘an enemy of the people’ and calling for revision of libel laws. So, even if we need not be unduly worried about the references to India in the report, that is no ground for endorsing the inadequacies in our system.